Friday, July 30, 2010

Back from the BWCAW

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness...

Linda and I were anxious to get back to the Boundary Waters this summer, but our lives are busy so scheduling was a hassle.  Erik had school and work so we had to leave him home or skip the trip this year.  Cassandra had a race - her first 10 miler! - on Saturday the 24th of July.  Eventually we made our entry permit application at for Sunday, July 25th.

First thing Sunday morning Linda, Cassie, Gunner - the yellow lab, and I drove to Ely, MN.  We rented our boat - an 18-1/2 foot Souris River kevlar Quetico - from Canoe Country Outfitters because they deliver and pick up the boat at nearby entry points for free, which makes for one less delay coming and going.  Nice people; I recommend them.

We chose Entry Point #4 - Crab Lake mostly because we'd researched it before but chose another route for a previous trip.  The one mile portage from Burntside Lake to Crab Lake was precisely as brutal as Robert Beymer's guidebook suggested.  Once on Crab we went south for a short nasty portage to Clark Lake.  The campsite there was a disappointment.  It looked like unfinished work, or a small patch of clear cut logging, depending on whether you've had your coffee yet.  Worse yet, it was on the southwest corner of the lake so the trees shielded us and the clouds of mosquitoes from the wind.  Daniel Pauly's guidebook lays out a nice loop of little lakes - Clark, Meat, Sprite, Phantom, Boulder, Battle, Hassel, and Saca - we could travel back to Crab (or to other more distant locations).  We spent the night but on Monday chose to return to Crab the way we came and then make for Cummings Lake.

We found a nice, breezy site on the northeast end of Crab and spent the night there.  The next day we packed our kit into our translucent gold canoe and traveled across Little Crab Lake and down the Korb River to Cummings Lake.  We made two portages, 20 and 70 rods, respectively and floated over a snag going downstream that we had to portage around on the way out. 

What's a "rod"?  Fine question.  A rod is an archaic unit of measure, primarily associated with agriculture, equal to 5.0292 meters, 5.5 yards, 11 cubits (like that helps, a cubit being the length of Pharoah's forearm from elbow to fingertips and most recently used to specify the dimensions of Noah's Ark), 16.5 feet, or 1⁄320 of a statute mile. Why portages on 21st century maps are measured in rods is a mystery to the various sources I've checked.

The few island camps on the east end of Cummings were occupied so we made for a peninsula on the south side of the center of the lake.  There was a thunderstorm very early Tuesday morning and it was cloudy all day, clearing only after sunset that evening.  Wednesday was windy.  Thursday morning we retraced our route on the way back to the public landing on Burntside Lake.

We packed all our gear into two large waterproof packs and a large bear barrel with the idea we could make the longer portages in a single pass. I had a rough time of it Sunday and Monday (I may have been dehydrated) so it didn't work out quite as we planned. Carrying a 49 pound canoe (plus paddles and life jackets lashed to the thwarts) and a heavy backpack (our's lack the padded waist belt found on SealLines newer models) was probably a bad idea. As the food barrel lightened over the rest of the trip the portages were made without having to backtrack.

We spent a lot time time sleeping, reading, napping, playing Scrabble and cribbage (actually, Linda and Cassie played the cribbage), and dozing.  We spent a lot of time relaxing too.  The mosquitoes were a nuisance unless a good breeze was in our faces.  Dog lovers will be pleased to hear that Gunner slept in the tent with Linda and me.  Charming.  Cassandra did much of the navigating on this trip and did a fine job; one less thing for me to worry about and more time to look around.  She trains six days in seven so in addition to paddling and portaging she swam a half mile or more three days out of the five.

About the only thing we missed much was my neck knife, which I left in the pocket of my jeans in the car in the parking lot of the boat landing.  We made do with the hatchet instead.  Fortunately the Gerber pack axe takes a fine edge.  Of course we didn't forget to pack along Clear and Present Danger - the original hardcover (Cassie is patiently working her way through Clancy).  Linda brought Summer for the Gods and The Making of the Fittest.  I deliberately left all work and school reading at home and dove into Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I forgot our one and only knife, but we carried a small library.  Guess that's the way we roll in our house, even when we paddle into the wilderness.